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"The Descent: Unrated"
Wayne Klein
Studio: Lion's Gate Home Video
Genre: Horror/thriller
Special Features: Deleted/extended scenes; commentary by the director Neil Marshall, producer Christian Colson, editors Jon Harris & Tina Richardson and production designer Simon Bowles; second audio commentary with Marshall and Nora Noone, Saskia Mulder,M. Buring, Shauna McDonald, Alex Reid; blooper/outtake reel; "DescENDING": Interview with Marshall; ""The Descent: Behind the Scenes" documentary; cast and crew biographies Rating: Unrated but originally rated "R" for language, violence and gore

"The Descent" proves that the road to redemption and the road to recovery are often paved with the bones of distant memories, ghosts and friends. Neil Marshall's first film "Dog Soldiers" inverted the paradigm for horror films featuring werewolves and cleverly used the template of "Aliens" creating a memorable beast all its own. Marshall now does the same thing for spelunking. One year after a tragedy that affects Sarah (Shauna MacDonald) she and her buddies Juno (Natalie Jackson Mendoza) and Beth (Alex Reid) meet up with three other women on their annual outdoor pilgrimage. In the past they've done climbing, white water rafting and other extreme sports. This year Juno has chosen the Appalachian Mountains and a series of underground caverns for them to explore. They get lost. Their friendships sour as they find they are being hunted by vicious creatures that have no fear. *** Like "Dog Soldiers" Marshall is able to create these characters with an almost minimalist brush stroke and yet make them distinct and memorable. Working with greater resources for his second theatrical film as a director Marshall takes a step up creating a film that at once works on a personal level by creating a believable bond between these women and hinting at much greater depth than is portrayed in the film. Likewise Marshall also carefully crafts a film that withholds the "crawlers"* (as they are referred in the credits) until the last possible moment making them quite menacing and unpredictable. Unlike a lot of horror films released within the past year "The Descent" actually takes the pains to develop a story with a metaphorical twist to the title making it more than just "another horror film". *** A tense thriller with a decidedly unusual spin due to Marshall's decision to cast all women in the primary roles "The Descent" may not break new ground but Marshall's film does once again play with the conventions of the genre in a number of striking ways. I would suggest renting/purchasing the "R" rated version of the film if you'd prefer to see the U.S. ending which "sweetens" the film and is considerably more upbeat (the different is an additional 30 seconds of footage that was trimmed from the UK release). *** I would suggest the "Unrated Director's Cut" because it improves on an already very good movie; Marshall's original ending despite the fact that it is downbeat is much more powerful (although less cathartic) than the ending Lion's Gate forced on the director for the U.S. release. Although the uncut version is only about two minutes longer those two minutes add a lot to the film overall particularly at the end of the film.The unrated edition unlike many unrated editions has more blood spraying through the air. This edition is more explicit in the level of gore when compared to the rated edition that appeared in theaters with shots that linger on the blood and gore seconds longer. It's not a huge difference however. *** Surprisingly it doesn't hamper the film but actually improves it adding to the level of tension. That's rare for a horror film-usually showing less is the road best traveled for these types of films but the added gore doesn't numb the viewer as much as it points out how vicious the crawlers that are stalking the women are-they become even more of a genuine threat and menace. I should warn you, however, that this edition IS NOT for the faint of heart. We also get the film's original ending. Fans should be aware of this because the ending shown in the theatrical version trimmed a critical scene near the end that changes the entire tone of the film. --- Image & Sound: "The Descent" receives a gorgeous transfer to DVD. If you have a widescreen TV go for the widescreen edition of the film as the carefully composed images look truly beautiful particularly during the white water rafting sequence that opens the film and the foreboding drive through the Appalachian Mountains. The level of detail is remarkably sharp with surprising depth given how dark much of the film is. The use of light, darkness and shadows is expertly portrayed in this edition. Colors are right on target with nice warm skin tones where appropriate. Director Marshall also makes effective use of color, texture, light and darkness to drive home the dramatic effects of the film and they are rendered extremely well in this edition. *** Audio sounds remarkably sharp with nice use of the 5.1 EX format. Again, detail is extremely high with the echo from each cavern they entire subtly different than the previous or the next. Marshall uses sound as effectively as the best director's out there carefully placing elements all around the surround mix to add to the film's feeling of claustrophobia and paranoia. ---

Special Features:

We're given two audio commentaries with both effective and intelligent. The first one features director Marshall, producer Christian Colson, Editors Jon Harris & Tina Richardsen and the production designer Simon Bowles focusing on the technical elements of the film, how various effects were achieved, shooting on a soundstage vs. actual location shooting (the entire sequence set in the caves was shot on soundstages) and the effort that went into creating the careful mounting element of fear that dominates the film. The production crew commentary is fun to listen to even when they aren't discussing technical stuff as they're all friends enough to bust each other's chops. ***

The second audio commentary features Marshall again with his female cast. While they do discuss the various technical elements that made the film so effective, they also focus on the physical challenges of shooting the film and the development of their characters. ***

The short documentary "The Descent: Beneath the Scenes" allows us to be the proverbial flies on the wall; we see the construction of the elaborate cave sets, the design for the creatures and production issues that arose during the shot. Director Marshall discusses the change to the ending in a short interview and how the film tested with American audiences, his feelings about the changes and how it impacted the drama. A blooper reel is included as well as deleted scenes that elaborate on their characters relationships. A stills gallery and series of biographies round out the goodies in this set. ***

We also get storyboard to sceen comparisons. Folks who purchase this film at BestBuy will get a second disc that was a featurette release in the UK on the make up/visual effects showing how they prepared some of the puppets for some of the effects, some of the gore effects and the preparations for the prosthetics in the film. The featurette runs about 12 minutes and because it's the only thing on the disc there isn't a menu to choose from. It's a pity that Lion's Gate didn't think to throw additional previews from other films on here as well as the original theatrical trailer. ---

Final Words:

In a year of dreary remakes, sequels and bad horror films "The Descent" doesn't pretend to be the most original horror/thriller of the year but, instead, takes a conventional situation and twists it inside out with clever plotting and characterizations. This improved version features the unrated cut of the film, the original, darker ending of the film and enough extras to make you feel as claustrophobic at the cast did on the set during the shoot. Lion's Gate, Pathe and Marshall have done a top notch job with this release.


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